Covid-19: M'sian-born immunologist in Australia in race to develop vaccine

Prof Suresh Mahalingam

PETALING JAYA: A Malaysian-born immunologist is leading a team of researchers from an Australian university who are working to develop a vaccine for Covid-19.

Prof Suresh Mahalingam, 51, who is with Griffith University, said the vaccine would be “live-attenuated” and therefore expected to be highly effective as it would provide a strong cellular and antibody immune responses against the virus.

“It will mimic the infection of the real virus but cannot cause disease.

"And what’s really fantastic about this vaccine is that it can induce all arms of the immune response, ” he said.

Prof Suresh, who was born in Kuala Lumpur but grew up in Bandar Pusat Jengka, has been in Australia for 26 years.

He said the other benefits of a live-attenuated vaccine was a proven record for economical large-scale manufacturing and a well-known regulatory approval pathway.

At present, they are at the pre-clinical stage (cell culture and animal testing) and are aiming to complete this within the next few months.

“We hope to commence human trials as soon as possible.

"We expect, if approved, that this vaccine may reach the market sometime in late 2021, ” he said, adding that the team of 13 staff and students was working around the clock on the vaccine development.

They have signed an agreement with a international vaccine pharmaceutical company, Indian Immunologicals (IIL), to develop the vaccine.

Prof Suresh said the biggest challenge when developing a vaccine was trying to identify the best approach to take, such as a live-attenuated vaccine, killed vaccine or sub-unit protein expression vaccine.

“One method of vaccine production doesn't necessarily work for all types of diseases.

"It's important to consider the endpoint of a vaccine when embarking on such an endeavour. Many vaccines do not make it to final production due to the approach taken, ” he said.

Previously, his lab also developed and patented novel vaccines for chikungunya and Zika viruses.

He said these vaccines were being developed in collaboration with major international pharmaceutical companies, who were expected to submit the application for conducting clinical trials in due course.

“I am passionate about giving back to the scientific community and get enormous satisfaction from the scientific process of developing a vaccine for Covid-19, ” he said.

He added that the importance of vaccines and ensuring there was adequate vaccination within the population was probably the most important thing everyone could learn from the Covid-19 pandemic.

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